Nutrition for aging eyes

nutrition is critical for healthy eyes

No one looks forward to vision problems with aging, but for many people worsening vision will increasingly make life difficult.  While surgical and medical fixes can help with some vision problems, such as cataracts or glaucoma, nutrition intervention could be the solution of the future for other common eye problems.  Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD), a retinal disease which gradually destroys vision, is expected to rise substantially as the Baby Boomer generation enters the retirement years.  While some treatments exist, it’s becoming clear that inadequate intake of certain nutrients is related to disease progression.

Results from the ongoing Age Related Eye Disease (AREDS), sponsored by the National Eye Institute  indicate that certain nutrient supplements can impact existing AMD and prevent further vision loss.  In the first phase of the study, patients were given vitamins C and E, beta-carotene and zinc.  Modest improvements were noted for patients with existing disease.  The second phase of the study is investigating lutein, zeaxanthin and omega-3 fats.  Initial results are at least a year away.

According to a survey commissioned recently by the Ocular Nutrition Society, few people are aware of the connection between these nutrients and eye health, although most respondents identified vision as the most important of the five senses.  Both zeaxanthin and lutein are carotenoids, related to vitamin A, are plentiful in dark colored vegetables, some fruits and egg yolks.  It’s easy to imagine a eye-healthy diet full of fruits and vegetables, along with eggs.  On the other hand, it’s also easy to imagine a diet low in these foods.  According to food consumption data, only about 25% of Americans are eating enough fruit and vegetables everyday.  Egg consumption has been dropping for decades.  And few people eat the recommended amount of fatty fish each week necessary for adequate omega-3 intake.

A recent study of mice shows how lutein might help: mice were fed normal chow, or lutein-fortified chow, for 10 days, and then exposed to strong light.  Vision was assessed, and the lutein-fed mice had reduced damage, including lower levels of a marker for DNA damage in the retina.  A marker for DNA repair was increased in the lutein-fed mice.

Low intake of omega-3 fats might also contribute to AMD.  Dry eye disease is another problem that worsens with age.  Omega-3 fatty acids are involved in the process that helps suppress eye inflammation,  and many eye doctors routinely recommend supplements for patients with this condition.

As the Ocular Society survey showed, people worry about vision loss.  If research data show that specific nutrients can help prevent eye diseases that threaten vision, the market for eye-health supplements is likely to explode.  Many such supplements already exist, even though research has yet to identify optimal doses of these key nutrients.  You could take an eye-health supplement, or you could make sure to eat plenty of dark-colored vegetables and fruits.  The benefit of that approach is that diets full of those foods are great for so many other chronic diseases.  Plus you’ll be getting lots of natural fiber, something you can’t pack into a pill.


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